MINNEAPOLIS -- Approximately two weeks ago, legislation was introduced in the Assembly in the State of New Jersey that would ban the sale of menthol cigarettes. The bill (A2185) has passed the Assembly Committee on Health and Senior Services and has been sent to the Appropriations Committee for consideration. Legislation that would completely ban the sale of menthol cigarettes has never before been introduced at the statewide level.
Although many larger, local jurisdictions around the country including San Francisco; Minneapolis; St. Paul, Minn.; Duluth, Minn.; and Chicago and others have passed ordinances that would restrict or ban the sale of menthol, mint and wintergreen flavored tobacco products within their cities, these types of restrictions or bans have never permeated to the statewide level of government, until now.
This New Jersey legislation is unique not only because it is the first bill of its kind at the statewide level, but also because the State of New Jersey recently enacted a new law that increases the legal age to purchase tobacco products. On November 1, 2017, a law went into effect in New Jersey that prohibits the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21. If bill A2185 were to become law, then adults 21 years of age and older would no longer have the ability to purchase menthol cigarettes anywhere in the state. This potential prohibition in the State of New Jersey on a legal product that can only be purchased by adults at least 21 years of age will have a devastating impact on New Jersey retailers while at the same time fueling the illicit trafficking of menthol cigarettes in the state.
According to the NACS, tobacco sales account for 36% of in-store sales for an average convenience store, with a substantial portion of those tobacco sales being cigarettes. Moreover, approximately 43% of all cigarette sales by New Jersey retailers are menthol cigarettes according to 2017 STARS sales data as of Dec. 31. Further, according to a study conducted in 2017 by Pittsburgh-based Management Science Associates, a menthol cigarette ban in the City of Minneapolis would result in retailers losing $39.9 million annually in cigarette and other product sales with the average store losing $259,000 in sales each year.
What this means is that retailers in New Jersey could lose hundreds of millions in cigarette sales plus a significant amount of other product sales such as gasoline, snacks and beverages when adult consumers seek out other sources for purchasing menthol cigarettes.
Finally, in December 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Tobacco Products, Silver Spring, Md., announced that it is currently analyzing public comments and conducting an independent scientific review of research on menthol cigarettes. Thus, statewide legislation of the kind introduced in New Jersey is premature and state lawmakers should wait for the FDA’s comprehensive review process to be completed before taking any action.